How To Get Rid Of A Cold Sore

Cold sores refer to small painful blisters around the lips, nose, or mouth and are caused by the herpes simplex virus. 

They are contagious and may spread through kissing and sharing the same utensils, such as spoons, forks, or towels. 

In most cases, cold sores go away on their own within one to two weeks. 

Unfortunately, a poor immune system, cold illness, cold wind, or hot sun can increase the risk of cold sores. 

Prescribed creams or antiviral medicine can help in healing the sores. 

Cold sores can occur at any stage of life and can recur three to four times per year. 

Sometimes, the virus may stay in the body inactive and only gets active due to some triggers. 

Keep reading to learn more about how to get rid of a cold sore with medical treatment and home remedies.

What is a cold sore?

A cold sore is a tiny throbbing blister that usually appears around the nose, lips, face, chin, or on the skin around the mouth. 

The blisters are fluid-filled and grouped in patches. The break of a blister forms a scab that remains for many days. 

Cold sores on the lips usually affect only one side of the mouth, and within 2-3 days, the blister seeps out and makes a crust—the area where the sores form gets red and swells. 

The sensation of tingling, burning, and itching starts when the sores will form, and this happens 12-24 hours before the sores develop. 

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What causes a cold sore?

A virus known as herpes simplex virus type-1 is the primary cause of cold sores. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), about 3.7 billion people under the age of 50 globally have herpes simplex type-1 infection.  

This virus can spread from one to another through kissing, close contact, saliva, sharing utensils, such as a fork, spoon, or drinking water from the same glass, and sharing a towel. 

When the sores get cleared, the virus may move toward nerves and stays there as long as it gets reawakened. The virus can also spread to the eyes or genitals.

Some risk factors, such as the following, can increase the risk of cold sores and their recurrence:

  • Fatigue
  • Physical or emotional stress
  • Laser treatment
  • Cold, flu, or fever Illness
  • Very hot or cold temperature
  • Too much sunlight exposure
  • Hormonal variations like periods or pregnancy
  • Cosmetic surgery
  • Cracked or dry lips

How long do cold sores last?

In most cases, cold sores usually get cleared within 7-10 days without treatment. However, if topical or oral medications are used, the sores may start crusting and resolving within 24-48 hours.

Moreover, cold sores can last longer if you have immunosuppression (low immunity), longer sunlight exposures, or trauma to surrounding structures (for example, a recent dental procedure). 

Medical treatments to get rid of a cold sore

The following are the ways to heal or soothe a cold sore or clear it up.

Antiviral creams

Over-the-counter antiviral creams like docosanol can help heal cold sores a bit early. It usually takes about four days to heal cold sores when using docosanol topical cream.

Topical ointments and creams for pain

Some anesthetic creams and ointments, such as benzocaine or lidocaine, can be used to reduce pain. Moreover, oral ibuprofen and paracetamol can also somewhat ease the pain.

Anti-itching creams

When you have a sensation of itching or tingling, get an ointment for a cold sore that will aid in preventing sores from getting develop, and you can get the cream without a prescription.

The following medical treatment options are usually available after a dermatologist confirms the diagnosis:

Antiviral medicines

The following antiviral medicines are used for treating cold sores:

These medicines inhibit the multiplication and replication of herpes simplex virus in the body and cause it to slow down.

Lip cream or balm

Topical zinc oxide may also reduce the duration of cold sores.

Anti-cold sore patches

These patches can help lower the pain and reduce its spread. Place the cold sores patches on the area, and this will reduce the chance of spreading the virus as it works as a barrier or inhibitor of the virus to get dispersed. 

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13 home remedies to get rid of a cold sore faster

The following home remedies can shorten the time for healing and lower pain such as:

1) Cold or Ice compress

The ice compression numbs the pain, but never put ice directly on the skin as it can damage it. You can use a cloth or a bottle for cold compression.

2) Apple cider vinegar

Do not apply it directly on sores in concentrated form; dilute it and use it 1-2 times daily.

3) Many essential oils

This includes clove essential oil, rosemary, sandalwood, thyme, hyssop, and cinnamon. Apply any of these or olive oil on the cold sores. 

Be sure to dilute them before using them otherwise feel tingling or irritation, itching, or pain in sores.

4) Lemon balm

The extract from lemon balm and chia seeds can also be helpful to get rid of a cold sore.

5) Propolis

The bees from the buds of poplar and cone-bearing trees were taken and made a material that looks like resin and is available as an ointment for treating cold sores. This is also known as synthetic beeswax, which is available as 3% ointment.

6) Tea tree oil

This potent fragrance oil helps cold sores to heal.

7) Peppermint oil

Peppermint oiil is beneficial in healing cold sores.

8) Vitamin C

This helps fight the herpes simplex virus that causes cold sores.

9) Vitamin E

This aids in healing cold sores quickly.

10) Lysine

An oral supplement of the amino acid lysine used to treat cold sores symptoms. It is available in capsule or cream form.

11) Ghikanvar gel

This gel, also known as aloe vera gel, aids in fighting against the virus, including herpes simplex, and prevents the skin from sunburn damage.

12) Rhubarb and sage

Combining sage and rhubarb is as effective in treating cold sores as Zovirax.

13) Kanuka honey

Studies show Kanuka honey made in New Zealand by bees is as helpful as topical ointments (5% aciclovir) in treating cold sores.

It is also essential to rest and not over-stress yourself. Moreover, wash your hands after using the toilet, be physically active, and eat a healthy balanced diet. 

Can you get rid of a cold sore in 24 hours?

Unfortunately, cold sores stay more than 24 hours, so getting rid of them within a day is not possible yet. 

No treatment option can help get rid of cold sores overnight. But, the healing time for a sore can be shortened by taking medicine to lower the symptoms or trigger a cold sore. 

Although there is no cure for cold sores, the symptoms can be managed, and healing time can be made quicker instead of waiting for the sores to go away on their own.

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What not to do when you have a cold sore

The following measures can help reduce the spread of cold sores and help them heal quickly.

  • Prevent triggers: Avoiding triggers like excessive sunlight exposure and physical or emotional stress can decrease the likelihood of recurrent cold sores.
  • Avoid popping sores: Popping the cold sores can increase their spread to the other skin areas.
  • Avoid oral sex: Try not to have any sexual activity during sores, as the virus can spread from one to another quickly through sexual activities, particularly involving saliva, such as oral sex or kissing. Also, avoid sharing your items, such as toothbrushes and towels.
  • Avoid the touch: Do not touch your sores; keep your hand away from them. If you touch it accidentally, wash your hands and do not touch the other person without washing.
  • Do not rub: Gently apply cream or ointment on cold sores or dab on sores instead of rubbing on sores, as it can damage the sores.
  • Do not pick at the crust: If you pluck the scab or rust, you may end up with a spot or a scar, so do not pick the cold sore and let it go away on its own.
  • Avoid aggressive wash: Avoid washing the sores aggressively or rubbing them harshly as it causes sores to discharge off the fluid or bleed. Instead of this, rinse a cold sore with a gentle wash.


A cold sore is a common viral infection that occurs due to a virus called herpes simplex virus.

The virus remains in the body for a lifetime but in an inactive form and gets active only by triggers such as stress, weak immunity, illness such as colds and flu, and hormonal changes. 

The treatment includes antiviral medication and anti-stressors, and home remedies to get rid of a cold sore include cold or warm compress, oral lysine supplements, ointment creams, or sunscreen to avoid further damage.

Try to avoid any sexual contact with the person have a virus or sharing of personal items and even utensils and if you have it does not indulge in sexual activity with another person as the virus can spread from one person to another one. 

Avoid rubbing, aggressive ashing, and picking the scab to prevent the sores from getting damaged. 

Cold sores have no cure, but symptoms and outbreaks can be managed and prevented.

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  1. Weinberg M, Segelnick S. Management of Common Oral Sores. US Pharmacist. 2013;38(6):43-48. 
  2. Sacks SL, Thisted RA, Jones TM, Barbarash RA, Mikolich DJ, Ruoff GE, Jorizzo JL, Gunnill LB, Katz DH, Khalil MH, Morrow PR, Yakatan GJ, Pope LE, Berg JE; Docosanol 10% Cream Study Group. Clinical efficacy of topical docosanol 10% cream for herpes simplex labialis: A multicenter, randomized, placebo-controlled trial. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2001.
  3. Saller R, Büechi S, Meyrat R, Schmidhauser C. Combined herbal preparation for topical treatment of Herpes labialis. Forsch Komplementarmed Klass Naturheilkd. 2001.
  4. Semprini A, Singer J, Braithwaite I, Shortt N, Thayabaran D, McConnell M, Weatherall M, Beasley R. Kanuka honey versus aciclovir for the topical treatment of herpes simplex labialis: a randomised controlled trial. BMJ Open. 2019.

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